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in the heat of the summer (you're so different from the rest)

Chapter Text

By the first of August
the invisible beetles began
to snore and the grass was
as tough as hemp and was
no color—no more than
the sand was a color and
we had worn our bare feet
bare since the twentieth
of June and there were times
we forgot to wind up your
alarm clock and some nights
we took our gin warm and neat
from old jelly glasses while
the sun blew out of sight
like a red picture hat and
one day I tied my hair back
with a ribbon and you said
that I looked almost like
a puritan lady and what
I remember best is that
the door to your room was
the door to mine.

- I Remember, by Anne Sexton

 

There’s a heatwave in L.A. the first time Richie sees Eddie naked.

It’s because of the heatwave that it happens in the first place, and even then it takes nine months. Nine long months since Derry clawed them all back, spitting up an extra lifetime’s worth of pain and memory and hope. More than enough to go on. More than enough to build new lives upon, all of them changed for the better, save for poor Stan. Foundations of history and friendship springing up where before there was only a gap in Richie’s mind, white and blank, like a test paper he didn’t care about failing.

 

There’s something in the way Eddie stares at him in the Jade of the Orient. 

Richie feels it too, the snapping electricity. All the air sucked into a sinkhole, leaving behind the heavy ozone of a storm brewing. There he is, surrounded by the only people who had ever let him feel wanted for who he was, instead of how he could make them laugh, and all he can do is stare right back with his shitty jokes blocked by his heart in his mouth.

“So wait, Eddie, you got married? What, to like, a woman?” The shots are the only reason his voice is so bitter. 

If Eddie married a woman, then the quivering, disastrous things Richie remembers feeling as a kid are his own to keep and think on, melancholy but accepting. Mature. He can do mature, just watch him.

If Eddie married a man, then — then it was never because Richie was a boy, but simply because he was Richie. Too-much Trashmouth, too-wide mouth and too-long touches. He could never help himself, and that’s always been his problem.

If Eddie married a man, and still stares at Richie like he’s remembering something too, then—

It seems impossible. It feels like standing at the base of a mountain he can’t possibly climb, and wanting to try anyway. Eddie stares back and bites back in a challenge, and why is it always a challenge with them, why does everything always have to be so motherfucking antagonistic.

They arm-wrestle. Eddie is just as slight and throat-ripping determined as he ever was, like a miniature pitbull who can match Richie curse-for-curse. His face is flushed with the drinks they’ve been ramming back, alcohol the only way Richie can rationalize Eddie shouting, “Let’s take our shirts off and kiss,” with his hand flexing in Richie’s and his face right there, close enough that they could, if they wanted to. 

The words startle Richie hard enough that he yanks Eddie’s arm clean off the table. Eddie’s laughing and swearing so loud with that same goddamn dimple showing in his left cheek, and Richie thinks Jesus, here’s the reason I used to love this guy more than anything else in the world.

 

Los Angeles isn’t really a place full of dreams. It’s smog sinking into your lungs, wildfires ripping down a hillside and too many people fucking over too many others for a shot at something distant and glittering. It’s like a riot at a planetarium.

It’s too hot. Richie sleeps with the mattress pared down to just the bottom sheet, with his arm stretched out towards Eddie, sleeping in a guest room at the other side of the house.

 

They’re getting drunk again. 

It’s the only thing any of them wanted to do when they finally pulled themselves free from the quarry, slimy limbs shaking with victory and relief. Washed clean, baptized into this new reality where monsters are real, and strong, but love between old friends is stronger.

The phrase, blood is thicker than water, speaks to the literal opposite of what it implies. Richie read that online. The real saying goes, the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.

It pops into his head as he watches Eddie gripe about there being three different kinds of fucking sewage all over me, Jesus, watches Beverly splash him right in the face for his griping and laugh like a chime at his sputtering, dripping shock.

Richie’s glasses are cracked. There’s blood in the fracture, most likely his own. They’re all banged up, all of them forty years old and splitting the seams of their bodies with pains, old and new. 

His ass hurts where he landed on the hard, ancient rock of It’s lair. The things he saw in the Deadlights hurt more. 

“Hey, Eddie?”

“What?” 

“Didn’t you hear? There are leeches in here, man.”

Eddie’s wet hair is flat to his skull like a yarmulke. Richie never saw him in one, Mrs K wouldn’t let him go to Stan’s disaster of a Bar Mitzvah, or anywhere near it. 

Blood of the covenant. Richie didn’t know that word back then, but that’s what it was. A circle, a sharp piece of broken glass was enough to bring them all back together. Fuck that shitty gray womb-water, it’s been twenty-seven years and we’re still more to you than she ever was, Eds.

“What the fuck, are you serious? Leeches?” Eddie yelps, standing straight up.

He’s so wet-cat scrawny, Richie thinks, so little, like always, I wanted to carry him around in my pocket, so short the water still comes up to his chest, rippling green from how hard everyone’s laughing.

“You assholes! Fuck you, Rich, that’s the last time I save your lanky ass from a clown!”

And it is. It will be, Richie hopes, because his joints hurt badly enough at forty, he doesn’t wanna find himself back here in another three decades fighting off shit with a walker.

It might be the last time they do a lot of things. It might be the last time he sits in the deserted lobby of a Derry hotel, three sheets to the wind with the best group of friends he ever had. The wood-panelled lounge glows with amber light, this whole town preserved like a fossil in golden tree resin. It might be the last time he ever sees Eddie, his dimples, the flushed-drunk pink of his throat, because — they forgot all of this once already. Who’s to say it won’t happen again? Richie could wave them all goodbye in the rear-view tomorrow and forget their faces as soon as he hits county lines. The thought tugs at his heart so awful and sick that he’s following hot on Eddie’s heels, yanked up the stairs behind him as if tied to his belt.

It’s the first time he’s ever stumbled over the threshold of Eddie Kaspbrak’s hotel room. And it might be the last, so he’s gotta make it count.

The hours slide by, piling up. Richie can’t help but feel the countdown clock hanging over his head, his chin propped on his fist at the desk as they talk, talk, and talk more, like it’s 1989 and school will never come in the morning if they don’t go to sleep.

“C’mon man, don’t you wanna — we could hang out in L.A., you’re not telling me you don’t need a vacation after this shit.”

“I need a vacation,” Eddie sighs. “I haven’t had a vacation in eight years.”

“Isn’t that how long you’ve been married?”

“It — yes,” Eddie says, the tips of his ears going red, and Richie—

Richie wants to bite them. Wants to take Eddie to a fucking beach, wants to curl around him tonight in the lumpy hotel bed, wants all of that and everything else as Eddie flips him off for grinning like a real, grade A asshole.

“I got a pool, y’know,” Richie says, a while later. He forces a laugh, and it throbs in his temples. “No leeches, I promise.”

The floral-chintz glow of the lamp turns Eddie’s eyes deeper, and darker. He looks up at Richie, who’s hovering as still as he can. 

“I’m not busy with anything right now,” Richie tries. He can feel his own pulse in his jugular. “We can — we can hang out. Like old times.”

“You’re on tour,” Eddie says slowly, and his voice is much softer than the strange look in his eyes.

“Nah, I cancelled after the, uh, fortune cookie incident.” Good thing too, he doesn’t know how he’d explain death by alien clown to his agent if he didn’t turn up to a show.

“You — you’re not joking.”

There’s nothing but lint and the hard metal dig of a hotel key in Richie’s pockets. His hands shake, so he clenches his fists around both. “Nope, not this time.”

“Did you invite any of the others?”

“Uh.” Swallow the knot in your throat, or spit it right out for the whole world to see. Truth or dare. “No.”

Eddie sways closer. They’re both in their socks, so he only comes up to Richie’s nose. The minibar’s well stocked, thank the Lord, and that’s how it starts.

 

“Come with me,” Richie’s begging, a little later still, with his hands clinging tight around Eddie’s face. Thumb brushing gauze. Eddie’s real and breathing rawbone body plastered in a scorching line up Richie’s front, against the door. No interruptions, and Eddie can’t leave without going through him, but why would he leave when it’s his room? He should’ve kicked Richie out by now.

“It’s hot in L.A., you love the heat, you loved summer, Manhattan’s all shitty and cold this time of year, Eds, please—”

“I hate the heat,” Eddie croaks. Richie’s heart hammers, below where Eddie’s hands are twisted in his collar like he’s trying to rip it off. His pupils are blown wide to iridescent beetle-black in the low light, and his gaze keeps flickering quick between Richie’s eyes and his desperate, pleading mouth. “And there are no bugs in Manhattan.”

“Dude, there are cockroaches everywhere in Manhattan.”

The crack in his glasses splits Eddie to fragments, a shaky kaleidoscope mural of lines tensing around an already tense mouth, of red blood on a white bandage on the sunken, tawny glow of his cheek.

Eddie’s chest judders like a failing engine against his own, and Richie’s stomach clenches so tightly in disbelief at what he’s actually asking for, wondering if Eddie understands. 

The Deadlights showed him what could have been. For a moment when he came crashing back from the void, he remembered Ben kissing Beverly awake, so long ago — and there had been Eddie, hunched up above him looking so proud of himself. Richie’s heart had skyrocketed, a shadow loomed, and there was no time to ask.

Now Eddie is here, alive and beautiful, his narrow chest intact. He’s sallow with lingering exhaustion, and Richie doesn’t want to waste another second without him.

You saved my life, it’s yours now. Helter-skelter thoughts shriek around like a carnival ride spent dreaming Eddie would sit just a little closer, but he doesn’t voice them, because Eddie already thinks he’s crazy. Share it with me, take it, have it, it’s probably been yours this entire fucking time and that’s why nobody else has ever wanted it.

“I have a gardener,” Richie begs him, harder, shameless. Look at me. Eddie’s jaw flexes under his palms. “Bug spray. My whole place is totally insect-free, I swear.”

Eddie’s eyes are screwed shut as he passes a shaking hand over his forehead, furrowed like he’s found a way to make a living worrying about shit. Which, Richie supposes, he has. His wedding ring glints like a lighthouse warning Richie of ruin, but he’s sailing right in. His heart’s on a mutiny. 

“Okay,” Eddie whispers eventually, his voice all strangled. “Fuck. God, I want to — I have to — okay.” He looks up at Richie, suddenly that same scrappy kid who was the first to leap down into algae-ridden water to hurl rocks at bullies. Jaw set in attack-dog mode, and Richie so desperately wants to be attacked. 

“I’ll come,” Eddie says. “For — for a while. Maybe until Thanksgiving? I can take some time off work. But only because of the bug spray, I know the kinds of fucking spiders you get over there.”

Derry’s silent that night. Sometimes the biggest changes come the quietest, muffled deep under a town, or inside a ribcage.

“Yeah,” Richie breathes, feeling knocked-down stupid happy, his heart tentatively soaring. “For the bug spray.”

Eddie’s smile is fleeting and knowing, his dimples coming out like stars.

Richie tips his head back against the door, blows out a shaky breath and sends a prayer of thanks to something he doesn’t believe in, because this feels like a miracle.

 

Nine months. Nine months of Eddie commuting back to New York for fraught divorce proceedings, nine months of his stuff recorded on Richie’s TiVo, of his anal-as-fuck closet organizational system and his extensive floss collection worming its way into Richie’s en-suite.

 

L.A. is still hot on Thanksgiving. Eddie complains about it constantly in the days before the other Losers visit, and Richie only grows more certain with every passing day that he’s completely fucked, because all it does it make him want to kiss Eddie more. Within an inch of his demanding, bossy, hilarious life.

They don’t kiss for the first six of those nine months. At first Richie assumes it’s because of Eddie’s ex, or the way Eddie still can’t even say the word gay.  

 

It’s easier than Richie could have ever expected, to slot into each other’s lives the way they do. Of course, Eddie’s the one doing a lot more slotting; he moved right across the goddamn country.

Richie has panic attacks about it, fairly often. Paces around his bedroom until he has to curl up and jam his face hard into a pillow, hands clamped around his ears as his breath pummels out. He doesn’t let Eddie know, because that would only freak him out too, make him drive like the maniac he is to the nearest Walgreens and rack up a gigantic Valium bill to the account he’d opened his first week in California. Or maybe it would only crumble Eddie’s resolve into dust, if Richie shows him exactly how petrified he is of this not working.  

If he sees what a tangled mess Richie is over him, he might just cut his losses and move back to New York. Too much effort, the way everyone in Richie’s life since the faded idyll of the Losers has always found him too much fucking effort.

It’s not that being a minor celebrity of moderate means (albeit a sloppy, single one in his forties) is a bad life. At least, Richie never used to think so. But that was before he had a friend, a true friend. Now he has five. But even back then, within the little solar system of the Loser’s Club, Richie always liked to think that he and Eddie had their own personal orbit around each other, neither one of them the moon to a bigger, more important planet. Just two, weird little asteroids, sharing comics and talking into the firefly-speckled nights until their throats hurt. And in Richie’s case, wanting something so huge and unnameable that he was sure it was better to hang in agonizing limbo, than to risk either Eddie’s disgust, or the humiliating knowledge that Eddie thought about him the way he thought about Eddie. 

You’re my best friend, Richie thinks, as he trails around the grocery store in Eddie’s scurrying wake, slumped over the handles of the cart. They take longer than they really need to, because the A/C is stronger here than at home, but it’s fine. Richie watches the bounce of the fanny-pack Eddie still wears, the slap of his sandals on linoleum as he lectures Richie happily about the health benefits of blueberries. The sweet, skinny curve of his calf muscles, the knot of his ankle bone. I didn’t know how lonely I was.

You’re my best friend, Richie thinks, dejectedly, and if you love me the way I love you, we might ruin it. I can’t lose you. I wish we’d never lost each other in the first place.

But Eddie came to California. He stepped off the plane looking as anxious as ever, even gave Richie a hug in the arrivals at LAX. He actually cooks dinner most nights, skilled at it from years spent constructing fussy meals around his many dietary requirements. He whoops like a frat boy when he slaughters Richie at the ping-pong table he keeps in his garage, both of them dripping with sweat and laughing the way you only can with someone for whom you’d face down literal death. Twice.

It all has to mean something. 

As the weeks wear on Richie starts to wake up every day with a frigid stone in his stomach, wondering if maybe he’d got this all wrong, that Eddie is really just his new roommate and nothing more. The revelatory shine of having Eddie back in his life feels like it will never wear off, but Richie still can’t help but hope for more, and more, and more.

Then he invariably comes through to the kitchen to find Eddie’s clothes neat and his hair sleep-rumpled, catches his eye and soaks in Eddie’s shy morning grin like it’s the California sun itself. A healthy fruit salad waiting for him, because Eddie is genuinely worried he’ll get scurvy. He stretches and pours himself some orange juice, some of the good local shit they’d bought at the farmer’s market, and watches the way Eddie’s sleepy eyes will trail down into the waistband of his boxers. The resulting blush only brings out the shadows where Eddie hasn’t shaved yet, and Richie will have to excuse himself before he does something stupid to shatter the tentative calm they’ve achieved. 

When he actually lets himself think about it, there are a hundred other little moments like that, individual puzzle pieces coming together to make something Richie can hardly believe. 

It’s how close Eddie sits on the couch when they catch up on all the kickass movies they’ve missed out on seeing together for over twenty years. Two tired, dysfunctional peas in a faux-leather pod, sharing popcorn. Richie hardly hears any dialogue, his heart pounding painfully in his ears whenever Eddie’s arm brushes his own into a goosebumpy wreck, or their fingers meet in the bowl. Eddie’s hand takes longer and longer to move away every time.

It’s Eddie’s lowered eyes and his small, murmured, “It’s okay, Rich,” whenever Richie forgets himself and puts his hand against Eddie’s hip to move past him in the kitchen, yanking it back like he’s been scalded when he realizes what he’s doing. There are boundaries, or at least there always were when they ran around as Derry-savage kids. You can give your friend a noogie, but you’d better watch your fucking back if your hands turn anything softer than violent. Nah, there aren’t enough boundaries in Richie’s nighttime, mood-lit house, just the two of them angled together like magnetic poles straining against physics to meet. 

It’s okay, Rich. 

What is? Nothing Richie feels is okay, the huge aching hole in his stomach as he lies in bed at night after Christmas Day, still feeling the phantom sensation of Eddie’s long, tight hug, when Richie presented him with his own key to the house. 

His fingers are bitten bloody with nerves, and they shake as he hands it over, no matter how hard he tries to play it cool. Eddie gives him a shining stack of tokens for the arcade at Santa Monica. 

“You looked like it really meant something, back in Derry,” Eddie says, his hands twisting together around his key. “Your totem, I mean. You always spent way too much fucking time in the Aladdin, I used to think you liked Street Fighter more than — than us.” 

“Oh no, I did,” Richie says, cradling the tokens. There’s a lump in his throat, like he’s swallowed one of the coins. “Way more than you, Eds, are you kidding?”

Eddie grins, his wide pupils and the ragged line of his healing scar glowing different colors in the single string of Christmas lights they’d hung around the living room, and Richie has to get up for more eggnog to stop feeling like he needs to breathe into a paper bag. 

He knows what will fill the hole in his gut, and it sure as hell ain’t holiday cookies.

It’s daily agony. It’s almost no better than being sixteen again, made of skin and bone and hormones and cycling as far out into the woods as he dared to on his own, to scream and shatter sticks on rocks. As if that would exorcise some of his terrible feelings about coltish legs in too-short shorts, giddy insults aimed at him in a puberty-cracked voice, or a flat, asthmatic chest. 

But at the same time, it all feels promising. All the lingering looks Eddie gifts him, like he’s trying to figure something out and wouldn’t really mind if Richie helped. 

Richie will wait for however long Eddie wants, and forever after that.